Wellbeing in the built environment - Introduction

Elina Grigoriou

Wellbeing is the up-and-coming subject amongst building designers. Interior Designer and sustainability specialist Elina Grigoriou of Grigoriou Interiors introduces the concept and the key issues that effect the relationship between buildings and those that occupy them.

In the wider property, design and construction industry, the main focus of sustainability has been and still is to a greater extent, on environmental impacts such as Global Warming and resource depletion. These are undeniably crucial but in our enthusiasm to tackle one problem we have ignored another: the impacts of buildings on people and especially the impacts from interior spaces that is where we spend most of our time.  We know that sustainable buildings ought to support and help people live better, healthier and more productive lives but this Key Performance Indicator has been marginalised or been seen in some cases as irrelevant up until now.



If we are not working towards making our lives continuously better and leaving the Environment better than that we found, then can we honestly say we are working in a sustainable way? If we wish to define success using economic growth, this can only be achieved through a healthy society within which the economy is derived from.

To retain and improve anything in life we need to consider holistic impacts to ensure that the final, balanced result can be sustained in the future.

What do we refer to as Wellbeing in the built environment? Elina Grigoriou from Grigoriou Interiors and Matt Still from GL Hearn have defined it with the following statements:

“Wellbeing in the Built Environment… is the performance of spaces that do not reduce the occupants’ Emotional, Mental & Physical health.”

“Wellbeing in the Built Environment… is the performance of spaces that support the occupants’ Emotional, Mental & Physical health.”

This is an evolution of the WHO (World Health Organisation) definition that states "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." 

We cannot ‘add’ wellbeing to a person but it can be ‘taken away’ by the environment and lifestyle that surrounds that person.


Showing 'Wellbeing' in context to the 3 Sustainability pillars


The 5 issue categories of Wellbeing:


1.    Indoor Air Quality – this includes CO2, VOCs, air particulates and ventilation levels.


2.    Acoustics – ways in which sound impacts occupants within and through spaces.

3.    Design Character – the harmony of colours, shapes, textures and combinations between these.

4.    Physical Arrangement & Furniture – this includes environmental psychology issues, layouts and relationships of spaces and functions.

5.    Light – quality and source of light, natural and artificial, controllability and glare control.



The substantial benefits that a space with improved design performance has on occupants’ wellbeing are listed below. Typically, a combination of design features need to be applied to return a result; applying just one design or performance issue will not necessarily improve wellbeing. In the long run, a step by step approach will of course produce great results too!


Good practice in the design of a space can return the following:

  • Increased concentration
  • Reduced eye strain & healthy sleeping cycle
  • Lower CO2 = higher cognitive performance
  • Reduced asthma attacks and prevalence of allergies
  • Ability to tailor surroundings generating feelings of belonging
  • Reduce stress and increased resilience
  • Increased creativity and focus
  • Enhanced group identity and emotional support
  • Increased concentration, reduced headaches
  • Improved confidentiality, focusing and teamwork


Why the focus on interiors and wellbeing?

The two biggest expenditures for any organisation are places and people, with people accounting for 90% of the lifetime costs of a building occupation.  People spend over 80% of their lives in interior spaces, which is why we initially put a greater focus on these specific areas.  Existing research work shows us that sustainable interiors can have dramatic influences on productivity, health, overall wellbeing – and the financial bottom line.

The business case for sustainable interiors is slowly but surely being made.  Our intent is to broadcast more widely what specialists have known for some time – that improving interiors is as good for finance directors as it is for employees.  No or low cost improvements to interiors yield high dividends in terms of engagement, health and productivity and the financial benefits of environmental improvements are undeniable.  Developing sustainable interiors is not only the right thing, it is the smart thing.


Summary ‘Take-aways’

  • Wellbeing is ‘No airy-fairy’ idea, it’s all very real.
  • High Resilience = High Performance.
  • 80% time spent indoors.
  • 90% of company’s lifetime costs are its people.
  • Remember who it is for.
  • Wellbeing Reviews. 



About Elina Grigoriou

Elina Grigoriou is a London-based Interior Designer and Sustainability Specialist who passionately believes that "fashionable" and "green" are mutually inclusive.

With particular expertise in interior design for the commercial sector, Elina's work ranges from corporate offices to business clubs, restaurants and car showrooms. Specific projects have included designing a Training Centre and main base  for Virgin Atlantic, as well as the flagship for The B.Hive Club in Covent Garden, London and Starwood Hotel & Resorts Trade Show 2012Concept in Berlin, Germany (2013 Sustain Award Finalist).

A leading industry figure in Interior Design and environmental change, Elina is a RICS Accredited Ska Rating Assessor, and her support and involvement in the Ska Rating initiative has been instrumental in bringing the system into effect. She is also a RICS Ska Retail Development Partner and chairs the Technical Committee, in addition to advising on its future development.

Voted one of the Top50 Rising Stars of Sustainability in Building magazine (March2012), Elina raises awareness of good design, wellbeing issues and sustainable practice to the industry through articles, cross industry debates, award ceremonies and speaking at events in addition to her own company’s work.

In March 2013, Grigoriou Interiors co-founded the Feeling Good Foundation with The Building Centre Trust following on from Elina’s efforts to raise awareness around the impacts of the built environment on occupant wellbeing.

Grigoriou Interiors is at www.grigoriou.co.uk